NW Pacific USA Pole Studio Tour 2010
You may or may not know that I am half American. So, while visiting my family in Portland, OR, I arranged visits to as many pole studios as I could fit in during my 3 weeks in the Pacific North West of the USA. In 3 weeks, I had to really pack it in; each visit was a flying one. Of course it was; why would it be any other kind of visit from the director of The Flying Studio?? I dearly wish I’d been able to spend more time at each studio on my road trip. While I was based in Portland, OR, I did however manage to spend plenty of time as a pole student, which I absolutely loved (I’ll talk about that more later on).
[I have decided that I am determined to attend pole classes here in the UK – which up until this point I have found difficult as some pole dance teachers do not embrace other teachers attending their classes - the only available classes were masterclasses by visiting instructors. I believe that pole dance teachers have just as much right to attend classes as everyone else and should not have to dampen their skills in order to do so. You may not like my saying this, but this is my experience and I intend to change it].
The Pole Dance Community (PDC) also asked me to be an ambassador in order to forge strong links in the community between the USA and the UK. I hope that as a result, more USA pole schools will join and back the PDC as well as visit us here!
All of the studios that I visited in the US as both a teacher and a student were very welcoming – I would say with open arms, but in the US a handshake is the norm; well it is here too, but as you know us polers are a bit ‘lovie’ and we like to hug and kiss.
There were a few pole studios that I regret I couldn’t go to South of Seattle and also West of Seattle as time was limited. The tour included: Kennewick, WA; Spokane, WA; Seattle, WA; Federal Way, WA; Tacoma, WA; Olympia, WA.
Pole Classes in America!
Upon arrival in the US, I gave myself approximately a day to settle in before heading to one of Ecdysiast’s Saturday drop in practice classes. Ecdysiast studio opened in 2008 and is based in SE Portland, OR. There I met co-owner Martina Thornhill who of course was lovely and I was welcome to attend the session. There were just us at the session so we shared ideas on pole moves and Martina gave me some ideas on new stretches brought in from her contortion training. Martina’s background in club dancing gives her good insight into pole dance and reflects in her dance style which is very fluid and concise as is her method of teaching. [When I asked about which strip clubs to visit, she pointed me in the direction of a few local strip clubs that would have been interesting to see, but I couldn’t fit it in, in the end, gutted! Martina warned me that they were fully nude in the US, which of course I knew. Perhaps I will check them out next time]. Ecdysiast studio has 8 standard diameter brass poles. They were 12 possibly 14 feet high. These were very grippy and so I was able to try out some newer moves.
I met co-owner Shannon Gee separately when I returned from my studio tour road trip and I only regret that I didn’t find time to go back again as I really enjoyed the class. Shannon has an aptitude for choreography and tricks also, which made me enjoy the class all the more. Like Martina, she welcomed me to the class and was very open to my attending. I took the opportunity to practice things on my non dominant side, which I like to do but it was much easier since they were brass poles. Just being part of a class is novel and fun for me. We had a great long stretch at the end, which was most welcome.
After only being in Portland a few days, I first met Freya Samantha Ruter Sonnichsen of Brassy Butterfly when I attempted to attend an aerial drop in class in the same building at Night Flight Aerial run by Stephanie Lopez (I did manage to get to one of Stephanie’s cool classes eventually). The drop in class wasn’t running, so we (my mum and I) had a look around the building and she read out one of the signs on the door…‘Brassy Butterfly’. My ears pricked up and I rushed around the corner to where she was and could hear a class going on. We decided to wait to see if there was one that I could join and were just discussing it when Freya’s hubby arrived and said; sure I could join a class. Freya appeared a few minutes later and seemed a little surprised to see me until she realised who I was standing in front of her. We had a little skill share and then I joined in the next class. I went back to Freya’s a good few times either side of my studio tour road trip and loved it every time. There are some great girls who learn there. Brassy Butterfly’s poles reach nearly fifteen feet and are high grade stainless steel tubing coated with a special translucent top-coat to provide maximum grip (as it says on their website). They are also quite narrow poles, which I really liked. Freya’s classes are fun, silly, rude and really open. We swapped American and English words for women’s genitalia....maybe you had to be there….
Freya does a great job at distracting the girls from the burn when they are working hard on the floor. The pole classes are great, but so are her sexy strength classes! Freya is so strong and a beautiful dancer and technician. I found her a beautiful person too and she is such an inspiration as a both a person and a teacher. Brassy Butterfly is based in N Portland, OR and was founded in March 2006 by Aine Inkk.
Near the end of my trip, I attended classes at Summer Morris and Kristin Mcintosh-Nelson’s Diva Den . Summer started teaching home parties in 2006 and opened her first studio in 2007. I attended level 3 classes by Randi and Sophie and level 4 pole class by Summer, where the girls were fabulous, there were plenty of stainless (and a couple of brass) poles that were nice and high and great to work on. You know when fishermen talk about how big the fish was that they caught? Well not to exaggerate, but the poles in US studios are high (again 12-14 feet)! Not as high as my outdoor pole though!!
Diva Den teaches in their new studio in SW Portland, OR which has a huge pole room and 2 other studios within the same building offering everything from Zumba by Rosella and Keli (which incidentally was amazing! None of the Zumba classes that I have attended here in the UK match them) to
Aerial Yoga (like me!) and Aerial Silks (also like me!).
All of the studios in Portland are teaching different styles of pole dance from different points of view and I can see that there are classes to suit everyone.
Unfortunately there were a few more studios South of Portland that I didn’t manage to see, but I hope to next visit!
Apparently Portland is known as ‘Pornland’ as referred to by the local news when reporting on teenage prostitution and the number of strip clubs in the city (of course the media would link the two). From talking to the teachers that I met, there is still a way to go – I actually think that the UK is further along with acceptance of pole dancing by the general public as something other than what is seen in strip clubs the US.
Portland apparently has the most amounts of strip clubs in the USA. Tina Morreli (Pole Fitness North West, Federal Way, WA) confirmed this when I asked her about it, she said; ‘Oh yes, Portland…mall…strip club…diner…strip club…mall…strip club.’
Don’t let this spoil your view of Portland though. It is a great and diverse metropolis, full of any kind of activity or relaxation you could ask for. It seemed not unlike the UK to me, I felt quite at home. The weather is not that dissimilar, maybe a bit hotter! The beach is only a couple of hours from Portland and I spent 5 days in my uncle’s beach cabin (house) after my studio tour road trip eating S’mores round the camp fire, getting a golden tan and windburned from the whipped up sand, collecting sand dollars (which amazingly survived being crushed on the way home to the UK) paddling in the sea a bit, but as I remembered from my last trip, the sea is painfully cold!
As for the Pacific North West, I really got to see the place. As you studio owners out there know, studio rental space is expensive and we need high ceilings that are not found in newer buildings. I saw the older parts of towns that I may not have seen, had I not been visiting all these pole studios. Pole gave me a reason to see Washington and Oregon State. After a few tips from one of my cousins and a map from my Uncle, I planned my route on paper (and GPS – that’s SatNav to you and me).
After picking my little Chevy up on the Monday, I headed out early on Wednesday morning up Interstate 84 (I-84) following Hood River and past The Dalles and then up I-82 to W Kennewick, WA (about a 4 hour drive East from Portland) to meet Eva Carpenter at her studio at 10am to introduce her to the silks. I stayed for 2 hours and we split the time between silks and pole. Eva is one of those people who picks up everything very quickly and has great form - she was such a pleasure to teach – my first US student!
Eva started pole dancing February of 2008. She entered Miss Pole Dance Fitness Northwest 2008 at the Royale Lounge in Bellingham, WA. She came 4th. I can’t wait to see what Eva does next as she is pretty adept on that pole!
En route to Kennewick the scenery is stunning. Wow, huge canyons and gaping rivers opened up to reveal breathtaking views around each and every corner!
After saying goodbye to Eva, I headed for Spokane, WA up the I-90 (If you look up any of these Interstate highways, you will see how long they really are – I-90 goes across the entire US West to East, more than 3000 miles).
Chastitie Lujan is so warm-hearted. She invited me to stay at her home in Spokane without ever meeting me. When I arrived at 5pm, her boys were waiting excitedly to meet me and show me all their pole skills. They had met Pantera previously as she had stayed with Chastitie while visiting too. I shared a room with one of the boys’ pet hermit crab and met her dog, cats and husband too! They made me feel at home and we had a good chat about the pole dance world and pole dance in general. Chastitie founded Pole Dance International Magazine with her husband Anthony – they interviewed me for the tour during my brief stay:
Chastitie has done pole-related dance for 7 years, adding the acrobatics 2 years ago. She competes, trains and performs on an international level and she is a regular at pole dance related important events. (Pole Fitness Association - PFA website). Chastitie is pretty strong – she can hold moves for aaages!
I taught a silks workshop at Chastitie’s Goddess Arts Academy plus pole which was great fun – all her students loved it too. I participated in one of Chastitie’s beginner classes aswell – she went through safety aspects and fun spins – I found her explanations of the moves very thorough and all of the women taking part had great fun! I was sad to leave as I was just settling in, but I needed to head out to Seattle. The scenery when travelling from Spokane to Seattle was absolutely amazing. I stopped numerous times to take pictures, but I haven’t included them as you cannot capture what I experienced on a few digital images. I also started to feel tired while driving across, so stopped at a truck stop for coffee and eggs. The best ever!
I hit I-90 again and followed it to it’s Western terminus at Seattle which took around 5 hours and went immediately to meet with Krisha and one of her students, Paige at Pole for the Soul in NW Seattle which was a great, fun way to start the Seattle leg of the tour. We jam packed the lesson incorporating all the elements of pole dancing. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching Paige and Krisha, so easy. Krisha has a lovely, quiet style to her pole dance, very endearing to watch. At the end I took a long stretch while watching Krisha prepare a pole and belly dance number that she was going to perform later on. It looked really good, I have to say! I stayed in Best Western hotel in the centre of Seattle, had a long hot soak and went out for dinner at the Flying Fish restaurant (appropriate!). The food was very fresh and very welcome. I just had time for a wander around Seattle before heading to Tacoma, WA to meet with Noelle Wood and her students at Poledello to teach a doubles workshop at her beautiful studio. Noelle has 13 years of classical dance training and it shows in her beautiful, lyrical style. I think Noelle has a wicked sense of humour, she said ‘ello guvna’ to me in a Dick Van Dyke kind of way which I thought was pretty funny, but perhaps I didn’t show it as I was starting to feel a little wacked out from all the travelling – I wish I could have spent more time with them all. Noelle, Laura, Stacey and Natalie were all very talented ladies indeed and were such a pleasure to teach. After returning to the UK, I was pleased to hear that Noelle has recently won second place in (East meets West) EMW TriPole Challenge! The gals at Poledello tell me that they are still practicing the moves and are really enjoying doubles work. After farewells to the Poledello girls, I left to meet Tina.
Tina Morreli, well what can I say about Tina and her studio?! This lady has more pole dance titles than I care to mention, but I’ll tell you anyhow! Wow, she has trophies and sashes up on the wall from all her various pole dance wins. Tina has a beautiful pink and black studio located in Federal Way, WA called Pole Fitness North West that has many more brass poles than I could count, brilliant!
Tina won "Showgirl of the Year" 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996 & 1997. She won "Deja Vu Polympics Washington State" 1993, 1995, 1997, & 2007. Tina won "Deja Vu National Showgirl of the Year" 1995. She also won "Deja Vu National Polympics" 1997 & "Deja Vu National Showgirl of the Year" 1997 (she was the first and only woman to hold both titles in the same year). In 1998 Tina was awarded "Deja Vu Lifetime Achievement Award". (Pole Fitness Association - PFA website)
It was such an honour to teach someone who has been in the pole dance world for so long and she is a great inspiration to me for this fact. I will always take lessons as I am now a perpetual student as well as teacher. Tina was generous enough to give me a run through of the kind of things that she teaches the girls at the studio. Tina, Jana and the girls kept going like they had endless amounts of energy and enthusiasm for their love of pole dancing!
I had to leave Tina and the girls to teach a spinning pole workshop at Divine Movement Dance. Angi Cardwell and the women at her studio have some truly beautiful movement style going on. I was pleased to see Paige again at this workshop (she has some skill on the pole!).
Some of the group remained for free dance (what I call freestyle) and I joined them in the style of the studio. I really enjoyed this sharing experience. I hope I wasn’t too tired to give you my best – but everyone was smiling so I will take that as a yes.
Next day I travelled I-5 to meet with Trisha Hatfield-Graves of Pilates at Play, whom I felt like I knew already due to our numerous emails to each other over the last few months. The studio is great, again, lots of space and high poles. Trisha and Cally treated me to one of their famous, or if it’s not, it should be! famous warm-ups – I’m not going to tell you, you will have to try it for yourself – fun, fun, fun is all I’m going to say! Pilates at Play studio is a terrific studio with plenty of height to the poles. I introduced my style of pole dance and aerial arts to the Pilates at Play students. They loved the sessions! The Teriyaki was yummy! We had good giggle - Mollie and the girls cracked me up. I did a short studio performance for them to MIA Paper Planes as it reminded me of home.
After a lovely evening meal out, we bade goodbye amidst a parade featuring Paul Bunyan and a few of his friends followed by a few wrong turns, then eventually I was back on I-5 and to Portland in 2hrs – not bad!
Once back in Portland, I just had time for a trip Washington County Fair, where I got my feet inked (Mendhi) and Saw Warrant perform their famous ‘Cherry Pie’!
I took Route 101 to have a well deserved break at the beach. The most energetic activity I partook in was building camp fires and climbing Mt.Neahkahnie. A final fun end to my trip was taking part in more pole classes at Brassy Butterfly; the last one being such a fun session with all the girls I met at my first session there.
I’ve been doing Aerial Yoga and Acro Yoga for a while now and it was really cool to meet up with some others who practiced it in the park in Portland!
Pole Dance Style
What you all want to know about, eh? As you might expect, Sheila Kelly style does have an influence here. I would go so far as to say that it has as much influence as Martha Graham had in contemporary dance. Don’t get me wrong though, she (Sheila) is not the only influence; there are clearly many different styles at work here. The use of flat shoes has increased since my last research, but there is also not the stigma associated between instructors of the use of heeled shoes. It is widely accepted as the norm among pole dancers, but there is still some work to be done before the public sees it the same way in the US.
Each of the studios that I either taught at or participated at all had a unique approach to their practice and teaching style.
All of the teachers were united in their passion for their art, passion for their students, recognised that each was teaching differently and also spoke highly of one another as well as being inspired by each other. They were united in their wanting to improve and further their pole dance knowledge and repertoire. Most are part of pole dance organisations united in their goal to bring the benefits of pole dancing to the world’s attention.
I just want to say a big thank you to all the wonderful pole teachers and very talented pole students who put their faith in me and welcomed me to their studios having never met me previously! You have all inspired me in many ways! Including wanting to run an American Style Pole Dance Workshop!
Thankfully I can still keep in touch with everyone on facebook and reminisce about my trip. Thanks for waiting so patiently for this write up!
Anthony Lujan Photography and Pole Dance International Magazine
Interview with Pole Dance International Magazine
Thanks to Pole Dance International Magazine
Pole Fitness Association (PFA)
International Pole Dance Fitness Association
Pole Dance Community (PDC)
All doing valuable work regarding pole dancing.
In Washington Thanks To:
Eva Carpenter (Invertdanceandfitness - in Kennewick, WA: recently relocated to Boise, WA).
Chastitie Lujan (in Spokane, WA).
Anthony Lujan Photography and Pole Dance International Magazine
Krisha (in NW Seattle, WA).
Tina Morelli (in Federal Way, WA).
Noelle Wood (in Tacoma, WA).
Angi Cardwell (in N Seattle, WA).
Trisha Hatfield-Graves (in Olympia, WA).
In Oregon Thanks To:
Martina Thornhill and Shannon Gee (in SE Portland, OR).
Freya Samantha Ruter Sonnichsen (in N Portland, OR).
Summer Morris, Kristen Mcintosh-Nelson, Randi Murray, Sophie Saviano, Rosella Hunter and Keli Davis (in SW Portland, OR).
My Family x
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